Edmonton Opera, Jubilee Auditorium, 24 April 2012
Give Edmonton Opera welcome credit: Beethoven’s Fidelio is difficult to stage, and the dramatic narrative not always self-evident. It takes two-thirds of the first act to make clear that Fidelio the boy is Leonore the woman. And the final scene, which is triumphal and polemic, is fundamentally static, and challenges stage management of the mass of performers in the chorus while also completing the dramatic action that concentrates on Florestan.
The performance had a number of great moments, especially the very moving Prisoners’ Chorus and Leonore’s Abscheulicher!, where the three French horns were superb. The opening sequence, to the march, was handled well, and the concerted pieces flowed nicely—bringing out the many suggestive cross-references in Beethoven’s music.
The set did not always work well, the policing movement intrusive; and the costumes presented inconsistencies; but the singing was largely good, especially Maria Hundeling’s as Leonore and Thomas Goerz’s as Rocco; and the orchestra was very fine. One was obliged to wonder, though, given the size of John MacMaster, the Florestan, how much weight a prisoner needs to lose during two years of near-starvation. It was a Pavarotti moment.
Killing off one of the prisoners at the end of their chorus, and summarily shooting Pizarro in the last scene seemed dramatic miscalculations, as these are not in the original, and became contradictory to the flow of action Beethoven strove for. The two executions also displaced audience attention from the plight and liberation of Florestan, thus simultaneously disturbing the balance of the drama, which Beethoven has very carefully judged. Note only, for example, how the darkness of the opening of the second act, which is difficult to sustain, is actually heightened by the hallucinatory vision of Leonore that Florestan moves to. Musically and architecturally, it is impeccable.